To view a photo gallery showcasing the performers playing 10 key roles in the upcoming Jesus Christ Megastar, click on the photos in sequence. To return to this story, refresh the page. Considering the significance of this movie, which Warners is reportedly producing, MuseMash is accompanying the articles below with a selection of the best available videos featuring previous work by key stars of the film – ending with a statement by Megastar co-composer Bono. You’ll find the playlist and links in the final section, after the cast list.
MuseMash readers are advised that the following story and two sidebars about Jesus Christ Megastar evidently appeared on Rolling Stone Magazine’s website between 1:30 and 2:00 am on March 31. These items then disappeared from the website some time before 3 am, but not before some enterprising individuals copied and circulated them. RS Magazine has apparently not responded to email queries regarding their coverage of the film. There is speculation that the stories were ordered removed by Warner Brothers, and that RS has been pressured to deny that they posted them.
BONO & GEORGE LUCAS TEAM UP FOR JESUS CHRIST MEGASTAR
Controversial reboot of 70s hit rock opera unites music icons & film stars
Rolling Stone Special Report
By Staff Writers
March 31, 2014 1:30 AM ET
A reboot of Jesus Christ Superstar, the 1973 rock opera directed by Norman Jewison, will be released during the Christmas season by Warner Bros. Entertainment. The film reportedly teams Indiana Jones creator George Lucas with popular rock band U2. Also involved are Julie Taymor, Quentin Tarantino, the Wachowskis, and a dream cast.
Warners will neither confirm nor deny its involvement in the controversial project, titled Jesus Christ Megastar. All participants in the production were required to sign non-disclosure agreements. The press blackout is likely due to factors related to marketing strategy.
Some speculated the studio first wanted to see whether major rival Paramount did well with Noah, released March 28 in North America. The film’s opening weekend has grossed more than $44 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Others speculated Warners was also waiting to see if the conservative evangelical backlash against Darren Aronofsky’s take on the biblical Flood spread to the general audience, which clearly has not happened.
A flood of rumors was unleashed when a veteran Warners insider (who has requested anonymity) released dozens of emails, text messages, and scanned memos online March 30. However, the informant’s blog entries on the topic mysteriously vanished within less than an hour. Nevertheless, Rolling Stone has seen the leaked documents, and considers them credible.
The participation of Lucas as producer is surprising, as he announced his retirement from big-budget filmmaking in 2012. Megastar is seen by some as a further expression of the spiritual themes of his Star Wars saga. Co-producer Ralph Winter, known for the Star Trek and X-Men franchises, has produced Christian thrillers such as The Visitation.
The project was scripted by two Hollywood mavericks: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), who depicted a scripture-quoting killer in Pulp Fiction; and Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop) – whose 2011 book Jesus Of Nazareth portrayed Christ as an insurrectionist, not a worker of miracles. Executive producers Andy and Lana Wachowski (Cloud Atlas) explored the Messiah concept in The Matrix Trilogy.
Megastar’s director is Julie Taymor, who debuted The Lion King stage musical in 1997. She has done innovative work with material ranging from Shakespeare to the Beatles, in films such as Titus and Across The Universe. This movie reunites Taymor with Bono and The Edge, who wrote the songs for their 2011 Broadway rock musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. U2’s frontman and lead guitarist have now written music and lyrics for Megastar, and Bono plays the role of John the Baptist.
Starring in the title role is Hugh Jackman, who impressed many with his powerful singing in Les Miserables (2013). Megastar features other notable actors who sing – such as Robert Downey (Peter), Morgan Freeman (the Good Samaritan), and Anne Hathaway (Claudia Procula) – as well as numerous rock stalwarts. And from the world of opera, diva Renee Fleming – who released a 2010 album of indie rock songs called Dark Hope – plays Mary, Mother of Jesus.
Key roles are played by Lady Gaga (Mary Magdalene), Nina Hagen (Herodias), Sinead O’Connor (the Apostle Junia), Patti Smith (Anna the Prophetess), Tom Waits (Satan), and Alice Cooper (Judas). In 2011, Gaga told E! News: “I’m a religious and spiritual person who’s obsessed with religious art.” Avant-rocker Hagen expressed her upfront spirituality in 2010’s Personal Jesus. O’Connor, an ordained independent Catholic priest, recorded her worshipful Theology in 2007.
Rock poet Smith, working with the Kronos Quartet, released Mercy Is on the Noah soundtrack (March 25). Waits collaborated with gospel greats the Blind Boys of Alabama, and sang on Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, by Gavin Bryars. Shock-rocker Cooper is a practicing Christian, who teaches a Bible class at his Arizona church when he’s not touring. He told The Independent in 2012 that God “has a plan for everybody. I look at my life and I think: ‘How is it possible that I didn’t die?’”
One leaked memo is the draft of a press release Warners is likely planning to issue in May. Tarantino describes Megastar as “a cutting-edge, postmodern re-imagining of JC Superstar – based on the Gospels, apocalyptic Gnostic books, and unpublished research by Dead Sea Scrolls scholar John Allegro.”
The production, he wrote, “is reminiscent of The Greatest Story Ever Told, which featured an A-list cast ranging from Max Von Sydow to John Wayne – back when stars valued the prestige of biblical epics.” Tarantino added: “Ever since Passion Of The Christ, Bible films have gained credibility. World-class items like Noah and Ridley Scott’s Exodus were green-lit by major studios. And Jesus is still good box office. Son Of God brought in $26.5 million on its opening weekend.”
The marketing campaign will kick off with a soundtrack album that includes two bonus tracks paying homage to JC Superstar: I Don’t Know How To Love Him by Amy Grant, and Pilate’s Dream by Michael W. Smith. A devotional book marketed to the mainstream Christian community will feature photos from the film, with text from the four Gospels. Warners plans to run a contest to win free passes to the world premiere. Winners will also attend a press conference with Bono, Lucas, Tarantino, Jackman, and other cast members.
A key part of the campaign is a video that appears during Megastar’s final credits, that will be launched this summer on Warners’ US and UK YouTube channels. It features Justin Bieber and Pink singing Watching / Waiting (130) – a rousing anthem Bono describes as “a 21st century Psalm.” The film’s first trailer is scheduled to hit YouTube sometime in September. If the film is successful, Tarantino envisions “a religious musical franchise of biblical proportions.”
INTRIGUING LEAKED QUOTES FROM MEGASTAR MAKERS
RS Special Report
By Staff Writers
March 31, 2014 1:38 AM ET
Hollywood has been abuzz with rumors concerning Jesus Christ Megastar, ever since a major leak of information yesterday. While the film is scheduled for a Christmas Day release by Warners, the company still refuses comment. The studio’s major 2014 production has been kept under wraps for the past year.
One memo from co-producer George Lucas to director Julie Taymor said he had initially worried Hugh Jackman “might be too identified with Wolverine to make a credible Jesus.” Taymor texted Lucas a quip: “Well, if Jesus really was both God and man, he would be the ultimate mutant!”
Lucas replied that his fears proved groundless. “I was electrified when Hugh first came on camera, roaring ‘This Temple is not a marketplace!’ And he wielded that whip even better than Harrison Ford.” Jackman later emailed Taymor, saying: “I’ve been daring Lucas to use this slogan on the posters: ‘The Force is with the Megastar of Megastars.’ He seems oddly unpersuaded.”
Bono, The Edge and Taymor were happy to renew their creative partnership, and exchanged several emails. The Edge thanked Taymor for recruiting Bob Dylan, Bruce Cockburn and jazz legend Archie Shepp for the project’s soundtrack, saying he was “especially impressed with Shepp’s gospel album, Goin’ Home.”
Bono joked that he wanted to be “credited as the Chief Musician, like in the Psalms,” then wrote: “Thanks again for letting me be ‘Beatle for a day’ in Across The Universe. Your gift for symbolism shows you’re eminently qualified for this assignment.”
He then queried: “BTW, did you ask Lucas about Pride (In The Name Of Love)?” Taymor emailed: “I told him it would be perfect for the Crucifixion. But that poser Tarantino said it would be too over the top, and George agreed. He’s under the delusion that Quentin is the ultimate cinematic authority, just because he name-drops Godard and D.W. Griffith every five minutes. Sorry, pal.”
Co-scripter Paul Verhoeven sent a memo to Taymor regarding the emphasis on Christ’s Jewish heritage. “We first see him in the prologue, at age 12 in the Temple of Jerusalem. We hear no words, only the overture. But we see the boy is preaching to Pharisees. Slow dissolve to adult Jesus, reading from a scroll in a Nazareth synagogue. He sings scriptures about the Messiah, then says: ‘You have just seen this prophecy come true.’ He’s banished by an outraged rabbi, then wanders into the desert. There he meets the Essenes, including the Teacher of Righteousness – and John, who baptizes him.”
The first half of the film was summarized in a memo from Taymor: “Jesus is a firebrand preacher who takes a stand for the poor. He is tried and falsely condemned for blasphemy, after he violently disrupts the High Priest’s money-changing racket in the Jerusalem Temple. He mysteriously dematerializes during the Crucifixion, and is resurrected as a present-day rock star named Joshua Jonze.”
Asked by co-producer Ralph Winter to explain the film’s shift to modern times, co-scripter Tarantino emailed: “It’s similar to the ‘flash sideways’ episodes in Lost. When Jesus dies on the cross, there’s a storm, earthquake and supernatural phenomena. This triggers a time warp, and the principal characters are catapulted into an alternate reality, with new identities. Christ’s mother is a peace activist, Mary Magdalene hosts a talk show, tax collector Matthew is an IRS agent, Satan is a Wall Street high roller, Caiaphas is a media tycoon, Barabbas is an arms dealer, etc.”
In the second half, Taymor wrote, “Jonze is about to premiere his new album, Beatitudes, at a worldwide broadcast from Las Vegas. But just before showtime, he discovers his trusted manager has embezzled $30 million from a fund Joshua established to help the hungry, the homeless, terminally ill people, and prisoners.”
The singer, she continued, “is transported to the desert outside Vegas by the mysterious Lord Lumiere. He is tempted with offers of showgirls, drugs and gambling jackpots. Just as Joshua seems to be giving in, he has a flashback of a Roman soldier whipping him. He then breaks into a rocking denunciation: ‘Back off Lucifer, go back home / Keep your drugs for yourself / Give your money to Rome!’ Next, he is confronted by nightmarish incarnations of disloyal disciples, characters from parables, cruel centurions and enraged Pharisees.”
The film’s climax “is a SFX extravaganza featuring a multi-dimensional war between angels and demons, and a showdown between Joshua/Jesus and Lumiere/Lucifer. It ends quietly with Christ back in the 1st century, after the Resurrection, waking in his tomb on Sunday morning.” Lucas responded with an email approving the scenario, declaring: “I’m excited by the script’s emphasis that in each of us, there is potential for goodness, for transformation of consciousness. Would like to discuss Campbell’s concept of The Hero’s Journey with you and Bono.”
The climactic battle, Tarantino said in an email to Andy Wachowski, “is a kind of holy revenge fantasy that may or may not be happening in Christ’s mind. It is intended as a seriously surreal, edgy depiction of events in the Book of Revelation – with tributes to Peckinpah, Hammer Horror, and DeMille.”
Wachowski cautioned his colleague that 20th Century Fox’s Exodus was scheduled for release just before Megastar, texting: “Just to be on the safe side, let’s throw in a burning bush and a plague of locusts!”
MEGASTAR LOGISTICS A CHALLENGE FOR WARNERS
RS Special Report
By Staff Writers
March 31, 2014 1:52 AM ET
Rumors may be inevitable for Warners, the producers of Jesus Christ Megastar, because of the participation of tabloid favorites Miley Cyrus (Salome), Mel Gibson (Herod), and Justin Bieber – who is featured in the film’s promo video. But internet gossip is only one of the many challenges that have faced co-producers George Lucas and Ralph Winter.
Many observers are puzzled by Lucas’ decision to return to large-scale film production, after selling Lucasfilm to Disney in October 2012. Some speculate he hopes to reinvent his image, after divesting himself of the Star Wars franchise. Whatever the case, he still has considerable connections with Disney, which enabled him to ease pressure on Megastar’s executive producers, the Wachowskis – who were also embroiled in co-directing the upcoming Jupiter Ascending (releasing in July).
Winter handled various logistical challenges, to prevent rumors from circulating. He arranged private recording sessions for Bono, producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, and the film’s Megastar Band, at Paul McCartney’s secluded Hog Hill Mill studio in Sussex, England. Winter also hired the London Symphony Orchestra, because of its long history of recording film scores and respecting confidentiality. As an added precaution, LSO members were not told the name of the movie, or song titles. Most cast vocals were dubbed afterwards, with no instrumentalists present.
The production had other challenges. There was talk of “serious creative differences” between Taymor and co-scripter Quentin Tarantino, over the amount of blood the latter wanted for the Crucifixion scene. Another source of friction was the choice of John Dominic Crossan, author of Excavating Jesus, as theological advisor. Crossan, a colleague of Megastar co-scripter Paul Verhoeven, was co-founder of the now-defunct Jesus Seminar – which was opposed by mainstream Bible scholars because of its radical theories about Christ and the Gospels.
Bono (John the Baptist), guitarist The Edge, and fellow Christian Alice Cooper (Judas) came into conflict with Crossan, over his insistence that Jesus was strictly human and not divine. Bono and The Edge were so upset that they threatened to remove their names from the credits. However, Cooper persuaded them to rewrite some of their lyrics to emphasize Christ’s divinity. The revisions annoyed Verhoeven, but his objections were overruled by Winter.
The project’s secrecy was almost jeopardized last month by an incident at AV Nightclub in Hollywood, when an allegedly intoxicated Mel Gibson bragged that he was working with Bono. There was also a minor disruption during the reshoot of a close-up of Jesus Christ Superstar composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who had a non-speaking cameo as an irate money-changer confronting Jesus. Russell Brand (the Rich Young Ruler) jumped in front of the camera dressed as the Pope, and everyone present burst out laughing – all except Webber, who stormed off the set.
The film was shot under tight security at various international facilities operated by Pinewood Studios Group, over several months in 2013. The shoots were complicated to schedule, because of the performers’ other commitments. However, Lucas had many of the cast’s vocal solos shot against green screen, so it was never necessary to have the entire cast together on specific sets. The Last Supper scene had several key characters who were filmed separately, weeks apart. Those actors were slotted into the film through state-of-the-art motion capture and CGI wizardry.
Special effects and editing are currently being completed at Peter Jackson’s Park Road Post in New Zealand. The epic film will run an estimated 3 hours & 20 minutes if director Taymor has her way. But Lucas and Winter are pushing for a more conventional length. Warners will release an Extended Director’s Cut on DVD and Blu-ray. Here is a list of personnel so far linked with the film:
JESUS CHRIST MEGASTAR
Director: Julie Taymor
Music & Lyrics: Bono & The Edge
Screenwriters: Quentin Tarantino & Paul Verhoeven
Producers: George Lucas & Ralph Winter
Executive Producers: Andy & Lana Wachowski
Special Effects: Industrial Light & Magic
Musicians: the London Symphony Orchestra, with guests Wynton Marsalis – trumpet; Archie Shepp – saxophone; Nigel Kennedy – viola; Ian Anderson – flute; and guest conductor Howard Shore
Megastar Band: The Edge & Bruce Cockburn – guitars; Rick Wakeman – keyboards; Bob Dylan – harmonica; Adam Clayton – bass; Larry Mullen – drums; Paul McCartney – electronic effects
Soundtrack Producers: Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois
Based on Jesus Christ Superstar, by Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber
Distributors: Warners, in conjunction with Disney & Village Roadshow Pictures
Hugh Jackman – Jesus
Bono – John the Baptist
Lady Gaga – Mary Magdalene
Tom Waits – Satan the Light-Bringer
Renee Fleming – Mary, Mother of Jesus
Alice Cooper – Judas Iscariot
Miley Cyrus – Salome
Mel Gibson – Herod Antipas
Nina Hagen – Herodias
Richard Gere – Matthew the Publican
Robert Downey – Peter the Denier
Bob Geldof – Thomas the Doubter
Roger Waters – Pontius Pilate
Anne Hathaway – Claudia Procula
Christopher Lee – High Priest Caiaphas
Viggo Mortensen – Barabbas the Zealot
Patti Smith – Anna the Prophetess
Sinead O’Connor – the Apostle Junia
Nick Cave – Teacher of Righteousness
PJ Harvey – the Adulteress
Ozzy Osbourne – the Demoniac
Billy Boyd – the Prodigal Son
Little Richard – the Blind Beggar
David Bowie – the Crippled Man
Russell Brand – the Rich Young Ruler
Morgan Freeman – the Good Samaritan
Samuel L. Jackson – Lazarus
Kanye West – Simon of Cyrene
Richard Armitage – the Good Thief
Sting – the Unrepentant Thief
Cliff Richard – Stephen the Martyr
Russell Crowe – Saul of Tarsus
Jamie Foxx – Simon the Sorcerer
Bono: I Am the Walrus
Nick Cave: Wings of Desire
Miley Cyrus: Wrecking Ball
Lady Gaga: Born This Way
Roger Waters: Another Brick In the Wall
Anne Hathaway: I Dreamed a Dream
Robert Downey: River
Billy Boyd: The Edge of Night
Christopher Lee: The Bloody Verdict of Verden
Bob Geldof: I Don’t Like Mondays
PJ Harvey: The Words That Maketh Murder
Ozzy Osbourne: War Pigs
Tom Waits: Way Down In the Hole
Hugh Jackman: Bring Him Home
Patti Smith: Ghost Dance
Alice Cooper: Cleansed By Fire
Sinead O’Connor: Psalm 33
Renee Fleming: Ave Maria
Little Richard: Didn’t It Rain
Nina Hagen: Spirit in the Sky
Bono: Who Is Jesus?
Photo credits, in order of appearance: (1) Peter Neill; (2) Angela George; (3) LoveYouSave; (4) Kreepin Deth; (5) Ella Mullins; (6) Alterna2; (7) Christliches Medienmagazin Pro; (8) Daigo Oliva; (9) Leah Pritchard; (10) David Shankbone. All photos made available through Creative Commons Attribution License